Acclaimed composer Lin-Manuel Miranda talks about finding the right sound for Disney’s Encanto characters and incorporating the flavor of Colombia.
Charm, the animated Disney wonder coming November 24, features a set of songs written by award-winning songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda. The Puerto Rican composer became a household name after his musical Hamilton blew up on Broadway. Since then, he has made his mark in film and television, previously collaborating with Disney on Moana, bringing his musical In the heights to the big screen, and now we introduce Jonathan Larson Tick, Tick … ¡Boom! musical a Netflix.
The songs in CharmThe soundtrack, now available for purchase and streaming, is a perfect combination of Miranda’s signature sound and music inspired by traditional Colombian instruments. The film, which follows Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz, Brooklyn nine nine) and each member of her magical family as they work to save the miracle that powers their home, allows for much diversity as each song incorporates the identity of the character who sings it.
Miranda spoke with Juice Mobile about exploring each member of the Madrigal family soundscape, adding an authentic Colombian flavor, and choosing the character whose sound you found most surprising.
Jugo Mobile: I love how each character has their own distinctive sound and yet they all come together as a united front, just like the family does. Can you talk about the journey of finding the right sound for each character?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: That’s the most exciting part, right? We really set out on this mission with this film of wanting to capture the complexity of an intergenerational Latino family living under one roof. I grew up in one of those; I know how complicated and deep it gets, how we see ourselves versus how our family sees us, and those dynamics.
For me, the fun of writing any score is figuring out the pulse of the character, which gets you into the rhythm of the character. And then when those characters interact, what does that mix sound like?
To choose an example, I think of Luisa. [Jessica Darrow]: I think I was inspired only by her character design. I saw a drawing of her before writing that song, and it’s so badass that I just wanted to write it as a Colombian reggaeton-inspired tune… and then find all the ways to screw it up. And that beautiful bridge in the middle where there are pink clouds and unicorns, and just the contrast of what you present to your family versus how you feel inside, it was really exciting.
Then with writing to his sister Isabela [Diane Guerrero], it is a moment of real empowerment. I thought of all my favorite Spanish rock songs from the 90s. I’m trying to get to the brunette Shakira. “Where are the thieves?” Paulina Rubio and Robi Rosa… There was a time when the best rock music was in Spanish, and I had never written a rock song like that. So writing that for her was fun. And in the end, I can mix those songs when those sisters come together. That’s always the fun part: building the puzzle pieces and seeing what the mosaic is in the end.
I love that you know how much of Colombia you can really feel in the movie. I know you took a research trip. What did you get the most, sonically, from that experience and your research?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Yes, they are rhythms and instruments. And the funny thing is, because we share an inheritance, it’s like visiting your distant cousins and seeing where they look like you and where they look different. “Okay, we’ll trade a four for a treble.” I was really inspired by different ways.
And I don’t think there has ever been a Disney hero song ‘I want’ that has a bambuco style with a waltz beat, but was very inspired by some of the music we listened to when we were there. And then to get Colombian musicians and make sure that we follow the composition with the authenticity of how it is played.
Writing accordion-centric music was also a total joy. He knew he wanted Mirabel’s instrument to be the accordion. She doesn’t get a gift, but she can play an accordion like hell. And that was also really an exciting character discovery and a musical discovery.
Finally, with which member of the Madrigal family did you feel the most connected? What songs do you want to sing the most?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Well, that is very difficult. [for] me, because I have to sing them all. I will say that Dolores was the funniest surprise, in terms of how it sounded. The fact that she has excellent hearing made me shut her up and, strangely, she also had more to say than anyone else. She’s like, “taka takata…” And then Adassa, who plays her, has an amazing voice. She’s such an amazing singer that then we got to have fun and play with it.
That was the most exciting surprise of something like, “Oh, Dolores came to play!” And again, it was in my house and in my own brain, but it was still exciting when it showed up.
Charm It will be released in theaters on November 24 and on Disney + on December 24, with the soundtrack currently available.